The Audacity of Contempt

Robert Borosage

Take gas prices, the most pressing issue on the minds of Americans. Offer a blatant ploy that in fact won’t help — but will profit Big Oil. Pocket over a million in contributions from oil executives and use the money to put up an ad promising to take on Big Oil.

Call it the audacity of contempt. Sen. John McCain seems intent on proving that it is possible to scorn Americans into voting for him. Consider McCain’s latest ad in the context of his “drill, drill, drill” energy policy. The text of the ad reads:

“Washington’s broken. John McCain knows it. We’re worse off than we were four years ago. Only McCain has taken on big tobacco, drug companies, fought corruption in both parties. He’ll reform Wall Street, battle Big Oil, make America prosper again. He’s the original Maverick…

“Battle Big Oil.” Say what?

This is the same John McCain who just made offshore drilling for oil a centerpiece of his campaign, reversing his longstanding opposition to it. He did so, not incidentally, while on his way to Texas for a series of fund-raisers. The result unleashed a gusher of donations for Big Oil executives — according to Campaign Money Watch, a nifty $1.2 million from Texas gas and oil interests in June alone, the very month McCain came out for drilling. He no doubt was told what to expect from the dozens of oil company lobbyists and retainers that reportedly are working with or raising money for his campaign.

Exxon reports an $11.7 billion profit for the last three months — a new record in the history of corporatedom. The big five pocketed more than $140 billion last year. So Sen. Barack Obama suggests that we provide every American with a $1,000 tax rebate to help pay for rising prices, paid for by levying an excess profits tax on the oil companies.

What does the maverick battler of Big Oil say? No way. McCain angrily dismisses the idea, saying that it would lead the oil companies to reduce their drilling in the US.

Now, all of this is based upon what might generously be called a big lie. The Big Oil companies, who hold leases for millions of acres that they aren’t drilling on, have no intention of drilling for oil off our shores in the near future. They are simply looking to use the crisis to accumulate rights to drill in the future.

Moreover, even if they started tomorrow, it wouldn’t help. As Bill Scher of the Campaign for America’s Future has detailed, Bush’s own Energy Department reports that offshore drilling would produce no relief until about 2030. (McCain disputes that, saying that we’d see oil in a year or two. His source? Anonymous Big Oil executives who no doubt have only the public’s interest in mind.) And once the oil comes on line, the Energy Department tells us, it would save us about 6 cents a gallon off the price of gas.

Ironically, McCain regularly sneers at Obama for suggesting that simply filling our tires would have more effect on supply and demand than drilling offshore. But again, according to the Bush Environmental Protection Agency, Obama had that right. If every American kept their tires filled, they’d save the equivalent of 12 cents a gallon starting tomorrow. Drilling sounds muscular but it is simply hot air that would be better used filling up tires.

But this isn’t about policy; it’s about politics. McCain pretends he’s for action now. He paints Obama as out of touch. The fact that the plan would cater to the interests of the oil companies and not the pocketbooks of Americans is beside the point. After all, John McCain is the maverick, ready to “battle Big Oil.”

Will it work? Daily tracking polls suggest McCain has been gaining on Obama. And other than House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democrats have been deciding to switch rather than fight on offshore drilling.

But there is one problem. Americans really are hurting this year. It isn’t just a “mental recession;” it’s the real deal. And they are paying greater attention than ever before. This week, Obama released a full-scale plan to move to energy independence, investing $150 billion over 10 years in renewable energy and conservation, providing subsidies to ensure that the U.S. captures some of the new green auto and appliance markets of the future. That puts us on a long-term path to a sustainable energy future. In the short term, Obama takes on Big Oil with the excess profits tax to help Americans struggling with the cost of gas and food. McCain has a pretty good long-term plan also. The differences would be worth debating.

One difference, though, is clear. McCain’s not about to support a tax on the big oil companies, whose executives are helping to fund his campaign. But that won’t stop him from selling himself as a maverick promising to “battle Big Oil.” If nothing else, he has the audacity of contempt for the very voters he needs to win.


This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

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